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Australian assistance for Solomon Islands

The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, will visit Honiara on Saturday 24 June for further consultations with political and militant leaders aimed at consolidating the present de facto ceasefire and speeding a return to constitutional rule.

Mr Alexander released the following statement today: Since my visit with the Commonwealth Ministerial delegation on 10-11 June there have been some positive developments, although the situation remains very uncertain as the parties approach the scheduled sitting of the parliament on 28 June. The truce established for that visit has held but the economy has deteriorated and the situation in Honiara remains tense.

Against this background my special envoy, Peter Baxter, and High Commissioner Martin Sharp have been working intensively with other mediators to promote negotiation amongst the key players to re-establish constitutional rule and an active peace process. This work has been instrumental in two important meetings over the past two days which have provided momentum to the process of political settlement - one between spokesmen for the opposing militant groups, and another between the Premiers and delegations of the two provinces directly concerned, Malaita and Guadalcanal. These meetings were chaired by local church figures and took place on Australian landing craft left on station in Honiara following the departure of HMAS Tobruk on 10 June. A further meeting, including the operational commanders of the militant groups, is now planned for Sunday aboard HMAS Tobruk, which will by then have returned to Honiara.

In these circumstances the Government believes a further high-level demonstration of Australia's concern and support for the negotiation of a lasting internal settlement to the ethnic conflict is timely, and I will therefore travel to Honiara early on 24 June. I will meet with senior government, parliamentary, provincial, community and militant leaders. In encouraging urgent and purposeful peace negotiations, I will emphasise again the substantial material support we are ready to offer, provided there is a clear commitment and active participation by the key internal parties in a renewed peace process.

Media inquiries - FA66
James Baker (Ministerial) 02 6277 7500
Matt Francis (Departmental) ) 02 6261 1555

******************************************
20 June Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

I welcome the continuation of the truce in and around Honiara. The Australian High Commissioner and my Special Envoy, Mr Peter Baxter, are working intensively with the various Solomon Islands parties in negotiations to help consolidate it, and to allow the early re-establishment of effective governmental authority based on parliamentary support.

The problems in and around Honiara, and the underlying causes of the ethnic conflict, can only be resolved by the will and effort of Solomon Islands leaders. But as I said last week in Honiara, Australia is ready to provide substantial support to make a peace settlement work. This support would extend not only to assistance in overcoming the serious economic consequences of the current situation and re-establishing government and police capacity, but also to providing targeted resources to facilitate a negotiated settlement of the grievances which lie behind the dispute.

I must emphasise that the significant support we are able to offer for that purpose is entirely contingent on a demonstrated commitment on all sides to reject the path of violence and pursue a genuine and urgent peace process under constitutional rule. The extent to which the various Solomon Islands parties carry forward efforts to re-establish constitutional authority and reactivate peace negotiations will affect directly our readiness and capacity to assist.

In the meantime, considering the immediate consequences of the conflict Australia will provide $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance. $750,000 will be directed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which has extensive experience in the Solomon Islands and is able to access both sides of the ethnic conflict. The ICRC is working to maintain medical services, provide protection for detainees and deliver shelter and food to displaced people. An additional contribution of $250,000 will supply basic medicines in response to an urgent request from the Government of Solomon Islands' Ministry of Health.

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